What you need to know about the Common Brown Water snake

Although much feared in Zulu culture, the Common Brown Water snake is completely harmless, good-natured and extremely reluctant to bite.

In Zulu culture, the Common Brown Water snake is known as “Ivuzamanzi”, and it is believed that if this snake bites you, you must be sure to drink from the nearest river, before the snake does. The science tells a slightly different story. A slender snake with bulging eyes, it ranges in colour from olive green to brown with a pinkish to orange or light yellow belly that may extend to its flanks. Average length is 45cm to 60cm, with a maximum length recorded of 97cm. Females produce 6 – 23 eggs in summer.

By far the most common water snake in southern Africa, it favours damp localities along riverbanks, well-wooded streams as well as dams and vlei areas. It is most active at night and swims well (although they are not as aquatic as the Dusky-bellied Water Snake), but is often seen hunting along shaded streams during the day. It is a powerful constrictor and will feed on fish, small rodents, lizards, and even nestling birds. If you walk around a pond surrounded by reeds at night, you stand a good chance of seeing one of these beauties since this is where their favourite food – frogs – can generally be found. They’re often seen perched across the reeds, hunting tiny Reed frogs, making for great photographs.

Its habitat ranges from Cape Town in the south, along the wet east coast of South Africa and inland as far as Gauteng, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. Possibly one of the most placid snakes around, this snake is completely harmless to humans and most pets. They may excrete a foul-smelling substance if you upset them, which is probably worse than a bite. Thus, it’s better not to pick them up and rather to simply admire them in their natural environment. The Brown Water snake could be confused with the Brown House snake, but the latter has cream-coloured stripes running down the body, with a white belly. In some cases, the snake could also be confused with a young Mozambique Spitting Cobra, as the colour underneath is quite similar. However, Brown Water snakes are a darker shade of brown, with a narrower head, and lack the tell-tale bands under the neck region.

About the ASI

The African Snakebite Institute (ASI) is the leading training provider of Snake Awareness, First-Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling courses in Africa. These courses are presented by Johan Marais, one of Africa’s leading herpetologists with over 40 years of experience and/or Luke Kemp, a zoology graduate that has been working with the ASI for the past five years. Courses include:

Snake awareness, first aid for snakebites and venomous snake handling:

During this introductory course, the morning theory session covers snake awareness, behaviour, biology, identification, myths, first aid for snakebites, scorpion stings and spider bites and a discussion on the medical treatment of snakebites. In the handling session during the afternoon, delegates are taught safe protocols for catching and releasing venomous snakes using the correct equipment. Delegates do not make physical contact with venomous snakes.

Snake handling bootcamp:

A hands-on day of practical snake handling. Delegates are taken through the basics of catching and releasing venomous snakes, and are taught how to tail snakes (catching certain species by the tail and using a hook or snake tong), and then spend the rest of the day working their way through several snake removal scenarios.

Advanced snake handling:

Delegates who have completed the first two courses (listed above) can move onto the advanced snake handling course where they are taught how to bag, probe, tail and neck (where you hold the snake behind the head at its neck to inspect) venomous snakes. This course is popular with people who intend working with snakes professionally or who intend keeping venomous snakes.

Advanced first aid for snakebites:

Snake venoms and their effects, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR, and pressure immobilisation, will be covered during this course where delegates will be taught how to apply the correct pressure and the use of a pocket mask and a bag valve mask. It is a hands-on course with various practical scenarios.

Reptile photography course:

This interactive course covers equipment (cameras, lenses, flash, tripods and memory cards), theory (speed, depth of field and suitable ISO), composition (background and focal points), lights and lighting (artificial and available light, flashes and diffusers), macro photography, archiving images, editing (Photoshop and Lightroom) and other tricks of the trade. A practical session follows the theoretical session.

Kid’s snake awareness course:

During this introductory course, children between the ages of 5 to 12 get to meet, hold, touch and learn about a variety of snakes and reptiles.

*The ASI courses (apart from the kids and photography courses) are endorsed by the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA)and are accredited by the International Society of Zoological Sciences (ISZS). They are also recognised by the African Field Guides Association (AFGA) and the National Federation of Tourist Guides & Affiliates (NFTGA).


Product enquiries: +27 60 957 2713

Course enquiries: +27 73 186 9176 | courses@asiorg.co.za |

Snakebite emergencies: +27 82 494 2039

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